This FAQ was developed on the basis of initial questions received from EBIC members and external stakeholders. If you don’t see your question answered here, please submit it via e-mail.
Why was the Code developed?
There is some confusion in the marketplace about the nature and impact of plant biostimulants, further compounded by the variation between national definitions and approaches to regulating plant biostimulants. This code of conduct embodies the commitment of EBIC’s members to place plant biostimulants on the market in a way that promotes transparency and allows farmers to make informed choices about the additional benefits that biostimulants can bring to their crop management systems.
In addition, because biostimulants are a recently developed product category, customers have been exposed to a wide range of products and marketing claims from serious, well documented claims about effective products to ineffective products that nonetheless promise to deliver practically any benefit imaginable. In a mature market, regulations would help bring some order to this situation, but biostimulants are still largely unregulated and where regulations do exist, they are inconsistent from one market to another and are frequently changed as regulators struggle to catch up with emerging innovations.
While cooperating with European authorities to secure a regulatory framework that will balance safety and consumer protection with the need to foster innovation, the members of EBIC felt it was important to take the initiative of developing a code of conduct to reduce the disorder.
The EBIC Code of Conduct for Placing Plant Biostimulants on the Market was developed to communicate members’ commitment to operating with high ethical standards in doing business, notably:
- Respecting all applicable laws and regulations in any given market;
- Developing safe and effective products and providing scientific justification of these points;
- Working with authorities to ensure fair competition and consumer protection;
- Providing adequate information to end users for them to make informed decisions.
What does the Code say?
EBIC members will respect all applicable regulations for putting products on the market. These regulations may vary from one market to another, and these variations will be accommodated.
In particular, EBIC members will not make any unauthorized off-label claims, even orally
EBIC members will prepare compelling scientific justification of the claims we make for our products.
EBIC members will make enough of that data available to the public for customers to make informed decisions about the products they choose and put data at the disposal of authorities to facilitate enforcement.
2. Implications of the EBIC Code of Conduct
How will the Code benefit stakeholders?
The Code differentiates EBIC members from others in the marketplace. Customers can rely on a strong and concrete promise about how EBIC members do business.
The commitment of EBIC members to provide scientific justification about product claims and safety provides reassurances about product quality, even in the absence of local regulations.
These reassurances can help authorities, customers and consumers distinguish serious producers and products from others who may not be operating to such stringent standards.
Does the Code prevent EBIC members from making plant protection claims for their products?
The Code of Conduct says that EBIC members “will not claim any direct plant protection effects that have not been authorized according to the regulations in effect”. This provision takes into account differing product definitions and rules for putting them on the market in different markets. The same effect might be considered a plant protection effect in one market and a biostimulants effect in another. EBIC members commit to respect local regulations and not to misuse authorization in one market to sell products in another.
It should be noted that in the European Union, it is already illegal to make unauthorized plant protection claims. As a result, anyone (crop advisor or salesperson) who makes off-label claims or suggests using a non-authorized product as a plant protection product may face personal as well as professional liability for doing so.
EBIC will issue guidelines to help members manage situations where their products are classified or authorized differently in more than one market.
Does the EBIC Code of Conduct apply outside of Europe?
EBIC members are expected to maintain the same high standards for doing business across the globe. However, local regulations may differ from what is required in Europe. EBIC members have an obligation to respect local regulations first and foremost. In addition, the same principle may have a different outcome in two different markets: for example, a product may be authorized for a plant protection use outside of Europe and not be authorized for the same use in Europe. In such a case, the company should act according to the local authorizations in each context.
Similarly, some markets do not recognize biostimulants as a separate category from fertilizers. In those markets, members should therefore adjust communications about the product and its commercialization to respect requirements for placing fertilizers on the market.
3. EBIC Code of Conduct Implementation and Compliance
Is the EBIC Code of Conduct written in stone?
The EBIC Code of Conduct has been developed to address a particular situation: an emergent technology in a fragmented and inconsistently regulated marketplace. The Code of Conduct is about creating transparency and trust and fostering high standards for the industry. To remain relevant and keep fostering progress in the sector, the Code will be reviewed regularly and may be updated to reflect market and regulatory developments.
The Code of Conduct is not meant to be a substitute for a proper regulatory framework; EBIC members advocate the creation of European framework for placing biostimulants on the market. The purpose of the Code of Conduct is to help companies prepare for future European regulation and to provide some clarity in the marketplace before that regulation is in place.
How will the Code be implemented?
The Code represents a journey for EBIC members. There is no expectation that companies will suddenly flip a switch and be fully compliant in all markets from one day to the next.
The first task each company has is to look at what it needs to do to reach full compliance and what is a realistic target date for each step. This review results in an individual compliance plan that is filed with EBIC secretariat.
Ultimately, companies should be fully compliant by the time new European regulation on biostimulants comes into effect.
After the European regulation comes into effect, EBIC may develop a quality mark related to the Code of Conduct.
How will individual company compliance plans be developed?
EBIC has developed a checklist for companies to use when developing their compliance plans so that each company considers how to manage the same set of challenges. While flexibility is required to reflect each company’s unique circumstances, some harmonization is necessary to ensure fair competition among EBIC members.
Compliance plans will indicate how company practices are gradually going to converge towards the requirements of future European regulation as these become known. Implementation and compliance will be incremental and iterative.
Sharing of best practices among EBIC members will also be encouraged to foster peer learning. The emphasis is on continuous improvement and learning.
Is company compliance going to be verified by a third-party?
At this stage, compliance will be controlled by self-reporting. It is possible that the Code of Conduct will lead to a quality mark once the European regulation has been agreed. If a quality mark is developed, third-party verification is likely to be introduced.
What happens if a company doesn’t meet its commitments?
If a complaint is filed that a company is violating its commitment:
- The EBIC secretariat will verify that the complaint is not frivolous.
- If the complaint seems legitimate, then an Independent Review Panel will be convoked to investigate. This panel is made up of three stakeholders from the market in question with different perspectives, for example a farmer, an agronomist and a lawyer.
- The Independent Review Panel will submit its report to EBIC’s Board of Directors.
- If the report indicates that the complaint was founded, then the Board of Directors will engage in a dialogue with the company to seek an amicable agreement on how the company will correct the issue. Because the Code of Conduct is meant to help companies converge towards the requirements of the future regulatory framework, dialogue to jointly resolve the issue will be the preferred way of resolving any complaint.
- If the company continues to flagrantly violate its commitment to the Code of Conduct, the matter will be referred to EBIC’s General Assembly for consideration. In this case, it is possible that the offender will be excluded from EBIC membership for its violation.
- A public announcement would be released stating that the company is no longer an EBIC member and is no longer considered a party to the Code of Conduct. The company would be liable for withdrawing any mentions of its EBIC membership or adherence to the Code of Conduct that it uses in public communications.
What is the composition of the Independent Review Panel?
EBIC will seek a pool of qualified stakeholders willing to serve on the Independent Review Panel, with configurations of three people working together to issue an opinion on each case. Each configuration will be adapted to the case in question: the advisors will probably need to speak the local language and have at least some understanding of the local market situation. Each configuration will also take into account several perspectives that would be useful in determining whether there has been an infraction of the Code of Conduct. One example would be a panel composed of a farmer, an agronomist and a lawyer.
Efforts will be made to ensure that none of the members of the panel have vested interests in either the company being investigated, the party filing the complaint or any other party that could compromise the panellists’ ability to render a fair opinion.
How will you handle conflicts of interest generated by the commercial relationships of the Board of Directors?
It would create a conflict of interest for a Director to be involved in addressing a complaint and his or her own company. Therefore, if a complaint is filed against the company of one of the members of the Board of Directors, that person will be excused from any of the Board’s discussions of the case. Any follow-up that is required will be conducted by one of the other Directors.
Furthermore, efforts will be made for board members to be excused from examining complaints against their commercial partners, investors or other parties they would have difficulty evaluating in a fair manner.
Where can I get more information?
The EBIC secretariat can also answer questions submitted by e-mail.